Don't Fear Your Smear
Cervical cancer is the most frequent malignancy among women under the age of 35 in the United Kingdom. Cervical screening, which is projected to save 5,000 lives per year, is one of the most preventable cancers. So, why is the number of people going for screening at an all-time low in the last two decades?
When my letter inviting me to my first smear test arrived, I, like many other women, felt a little queasy. Growing up, I knew I'd have to have a doctor prod my bits at some point, but I really didn't want it to be now. Or ever, for that matter. I realised how important it was to get the test done, so after a few days of fear and deep breaths, I called and made an appointment.
Dying of Embarrassment
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust surveyed over 2,000 British women on how they felt about getting a smear test done. Any guesses on how that went?
35% were embarrassed to attend because they felt self-conscious about their body shape
34% were embarrassed by what their vulva looked like
38% were worried their vulva would smell
31% said they wouldn’t attend a smear test if they hadn’t shaved or waxed their bikini area
Since I was a youngster, I've been quite self-conscious about my vulva - is it normal? Is it sufficiently "neat"? Would it be strange or unattractive to others?
According to Callaly's new vulva diversity project, one in every five people aged 16 to 24 has considered cutting or bleaching their vulva, a fact that startled me, partly because my distorted perception of "normal" vulvas led me to believe I was the only one who had felt this way.
The harsh reality is that people are dying as a result of body image concerns. People are dying because they don't have a clear picture of what "normal" looks like - or, more precisely, how broad the definition of "normal" is. People are dying because they don't realise that unless you have nine separate labia, each with its own set of teeth, the doctor has already seen an unending number of fannies. Like. Yours.
Dealing with Insecurity
I would recommend that anyone with a vulva, whether or not they are due for a smear test, spend some time browsing the galleries of illustrator The Vulva Gallery and body caster Lydia Reeves.
Let's get down to business if you're due for a smear. Here are my three top tips for kicking humiliation to the curb and doing the life-saving no pants dance down to your nearest screening facility.
Embarrassment tip #1
The person you will visit has seen a lot of vulvas and vaginas in their time. There are so many. If you wash your bits before going to the dentist, you're already in the least offensive region of said vulvas, similar to scrubbing your teeth before going to the dentist. Also, what do you suppose they're looking forward to? You're not going to show up for your appointment, drop your pants, and have them ask, "OH MY GOD, WHY ARE YOUR BITS OUT?" Which leads me to...
Embarrassment tip #2
You know what they'd say if the person you're going to see was even somewhat, remotely, even a teeny little bit concerned about seeing your vagina when asked if they wanted to learn how to administer smear tests? "Nah, you're fine; I don't mind seeing tens of thousands of vajayjays." Simple. Done. The individual who took your sample made the conscious decision to learn how to do them. Why? Because they are vital. And these individuals want you to be happy, healthy, and secure in your own skin. These exams are, once again, life-saving. Isn't that fantastic?
Embarrassment tip #3
Let's play with our insecurities for a moment. Assume you walk into your appointment, enter a strange parallel realm, and, despite the laws of physics, have a vulva that is objectionable in some way. So, what's the deal? Are you sure you don't want to have sex with this person? You don't want to use the power of your magical vagina to entice them in, do you? The ONLY job this individual will play in your entire life is to hunt for unhappy cells inside your body in order to save your life once more. It makes no difference what your vulva looks like.
My Personal Experience
When I called my GP, I indicated that it was my first smear test and that I would like a female nurse. I also requested that they choose the nicest person there. While explaining what would happen, the woman who performed my test was warm and sweet, purring at me like a cat.
She walked out of the room as I removed my pants, sat down at the table, and draped the small white sheet over my dignity. She then came back in and began questioning me about my tattoos, and as I was chatting away, casually as pie, she checked beneath the covers to ensure I had full fanny to the wind. And.....oh. Well...oh. That was the part that made me uneasy; she'd seen my cherished thing and, well, it's over. The ceiling didn't collapse, and she didn't even blink, much less recoil in horror as the small voice in my head predicted. So, let's see...
She carefully inserted and opened the speculum. This is the part that some people find uncomfortable, but I made an effort to relax and breathe, and it really didn't feel much different if you've ever used an inside sex toy. As she counted to five, I felt a slight tickling within my belly as she said she was going to take the sample. Then it was finished. Honestly. My answer was simply "...huh?" when she informed me I could change.
I only had my pieces out for about 60 seconds. It wasn't even unpleasant for me, let alone agonising. It's critical that I realise that some people do suffer from discomfort; but, don't let those accounts deter you Because everyone's body is different. Relax, breathe normally, and converse with the person who is taking your sample. Inform them that you are nervous. Tell them to take it easy. Request that a different individual be assigned to you. ASK FOR ANYTHING YOU REQUIRE TO FEEL COMFORTABLE. If it makes you feel more at ease, you can even insert the speculum yourself, or bring a buddy to hold your hand.
After that, I felt a little ridiculous for making such a huge deal out of it in my thoughts. It was simply indescribably simple. The significance of these tests and what they accomplish far transcends the punani performance's 60 seconds. If you haven't already done so, please schedule your test. Simply phone, inquire, and act. Then laugh with me about how simple it was!
Everyone with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 is entitled to a smear test - your sexual history, gender identity, and sexual orientation do not affect that.